To understand the future we must look to the past
Often the best way to predict the future is to look in the rear-view mirror. Back in the 1990s, the lens with which we viewed the internet was publishing – what would the internet do to how we shared, read and produced material?
The printing press was the closest comparison we had. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s analysis of the impact of the printing press identified five impacts that transformed the world:
- Expertise – experts come under pressure from new voices who adopt new technology early
- Organisational transformation – new organisations emerge to deal with the social, cultural, and political changes
- Social and legal norms struggle to respond and revise quickly in response – especially in relation to intellectual property
- Concepts of identity and community are transformed – new forms of language come into being
- Educations – educators are pressured to prepare their students for the newly emerging world
Using these five as lenses we can understand the changes that are transforming the way that we work.
Just as the printing press had a significant impact upon society, so too will the emerging new world of work. In order to keep attracting the brightest and best talent, organisations must learn how to inhabit it.
In the 1400s, the printing press allowed information to be recorded more easily, and shared to a wider audience more quickly and more accurately. This change saw the old expertise of the scribe become less significant, and those who were unable to adapt to the new technology found themselves redundant.
The printing press resulted in organisational change, with many believing its existence helped to trigger a scientific revolution, as science minded people were able to create and distribute information with the aim to educate the masses, whilst also altering the way power that the church once held over copy and censorship.
Arguably, between the invention of writing and the invention of the internet, the printing press was one of the most important inventions for the development of society as it is now.
In a more modern setting, the past decade has seen the internet adapt and alter society at a rapid rate unlike anything in the past. Whilst you can look behind and really comprehend how extensive the change that can be implemented through a single invention is, the internet and technology as it is today is like building blocks, millions of small inventions coming together to advance society at a significant pace.
The printing press allowed easier copy, free from the censorship of the Church, who at the time employed most of the scribes, creating a system that was faster, cleaner and more accurate, however, when compared to the social media that is held in our hands today, the difference is almost greater than the similarities.
Businesses are almost playing a game of catch up, learning how to utilise technology for their benefit, only for it to evolve again. Marketing is a game which has changed significantly, with many preaching the impact of social media, trying to educate businesses in how to maximise their use of it.
Yet social media is only one of the current building blocks impacting upon businesses, as the ‘New World of Work’ is rapidly expanding and advancing. Businesses need to be aware of Blockchain and Bitcoin, and the potential of self-executing smart contracts. Businesses also need to be ready to adapt to the social norms which are changing as cloud based technologies allow employees to experience a more flexible and free workplace.
Where a collection of etched wooden pieces, ink and parchment altered society in the past, a collection of code and cloud will alter the future, and it’s the businesses who have looked to the past and learned that adopting the new technology early will push them to the forefront, that will succeed in this ‘New World of Work’.